With the passing of Aaron Spelling and his prolific TV legacy, we thought it would be appropriate to remember a show Spelling both co-created and used to introduce the world to the acting talents of daughter Tori: Beverly Hills, 90210. This seminal high school soap opera took an unflinching look at social issues from gun violence to AIDS to apartheid, all set within the priviliged-but-melodramatic turmoil of America’s most exclusive zip code. Since most of the original cast left the show between 1994 and 1998, we decided to split the difference and celebrate the would-be 10-year class reunion of West Beverly High School with the following “then and now” look at some it’s most notable alumni.
Name: Dylan McKay/Luke Perry
Then: The personification of early-90’s cool, Dylan McKay might have been West Beverly’s most complicated, tortured individual. Equal parts unwilling object of affection and self-destructive loner, Dylan’s myriad struggles included domestic dilemmas, romantic turmoil, substance abuse struggles and countless other personality conflicts that somehow just made him all the more mysteriously desiriable.
Where They Are Now: In the years after high school, it seems that Luke Perry has finally managed to broaden his emotional range beyond “moody detachment”, even going so far as learning how to smile. While it might have taken years of therapy, acting classes and facial exercises to accomplish this feat, Cool Hand Luke’s hard work has paid off with a return to primetime TV, currently starring in NBC’s new dramatic series Windfall. But in the world of TV characters, Dylan McKay is out-of-shape, selling cars in the Valley and still fighting his life-long battle with booze.
Name: Brandon Walsh/Jason Priestley
Then: The biggest thing to happen to sideburns since Elvis, sensitive young Brandon Walsh was the lynchpin holding together the machine of melodrama at West Beverly High. When not arbitrating the endless drama between his friends, Brandon was the midwestern fish-out-of-water, swimming his way through West Beverly’s lake of youthful turmoil, jealousy, angst and indiscretion. His own love life was marked by a series of brief-but-intense romances with random guest stars who were typically only around for an episode or two, before finally settling down with obvious-but-unstable love interest Kelly Taylor.
Where They Are Now: With a series of small and unremarkable roles in various films and TV shows following the cancellation of 90210, Jason Priestley has never really been able to overcome the “sensitive sex symbol” typecast that made him a teenage hearthrob in the 90’s. Even after trying to “toughen-up” his image by growing facial hair, Priestley was still cast as “happily married boring friend” in this year’s short-lived Love Monkey. The irony is that role was probably a relatively accurate representation of what Brandon & Kelly’s marriage might look like today, thus proving that Jason will be Brandon for the rest of his career.
Name: Brenda Walsh/Shannen Doherty
Then: Brandon’s saucier, more rebellious twin sister Brenda was the primary catalyst for the ever-scandalous, series-long love tug-of-war with Kelly over the reserved intererest of Dylan McKay. Despite sharing Brandon’s small-town upbringing, Brenda was much more attracted to the turbulent, superficial nature of Beverly Hills teen culture. Brenda experienced the same high school angst and agony as her brother, but wasn’t afraid to vocally, over-emotionally, express her endless frustrations. After a characteristically-dramatic goodbye kiss with Dylan, Brenda left for London and was never heard from again. While we’ll never know for sure, her time across the pond was likely spent crying, writing bad poetry and sullenly staring at pictures of Dylan for hours on end.
Where They Are Now: Mirroring the more brazen behavior of her character, Shannen Doherty became the show’s most tabloid-troubled star. After gaining a highly public reputation for her tempermental outbursts and hasty love affairs, Shannon has finally faded to into relative obscurity, somehow managing to maintain a consistent-but-irrelevant career of bad WB shows, unnoticed Playboy pictorials and laughable B-movie roles. Like her character Brenda, Shannon will likely spend the remainder of her days agonizing over all the things she could have done differently, a tragic victim of her own blind ambition.
Name: Kelly Taylor/Jennie Garth
Then: From her introduction as West Beverly’s “snobby rich girl” throughout her substantial growth into the compassionate, multi-dimensional love interest of super-sensitive Brandon, Kelly Taylor was the true female lead of the show, despite her failure to achieve the off-screen popularity of her co-stars. The perfect drama queen, Kelly’s hopeless indecision and on-again-off-again relationships with pretty much every other character on the show (excluding the Walsh parents and Nat from the Peach Pit) provided many a memorable episode of torrid teenage soap opera.
Where They Are Now: Despite a handful of TV gigs here and there, Jennie Garth hasn’t managed to recapture the success of her early career. But happily married with children and still living comfortably in Hollywood, Jennie lives the very kind of life one could have reasonably expected for Kelli Taylor. In fact, what would be so surprising Kelly making a post-graduate decision to pursue an acting career, then landing her a role on a massively popular primetime teen drama?
Name: Steve Sanders/Ian Ziering
Then: The fun-loving frat guy personality of Steve Sanders provided the perfect counterpoint to the brooding severity of fellow male classmates Dylan and Brandon. Cocky and sarcastic on the outside, but sensitive and loyal at heart, Steve is mostly remembered for his dopey smile, drunken hijinx and willingness to throw down whenever there’s a fight having anything to do with anyone he’s ever met.
Where They Are Now: Having finally cashed in on what was left of their assets (Steve’s trust fund and Ian’s celebrity status), these days Steve Sanders and Ian Ziering spend a lot of time drinking and fondly recounting “how awesome high school was” to anyone who will listen.
Name: Donna Martin/Tori Spelling
Then: Donna Martin was the harmless air-head who, despite being surrounded by her friends’ endless back-stabbing and depravity, somehow remained oblivious towards, and unaffected by, the major trials and tribulations of West Beverly High. Most often just a wide-eyed spectator of her friends’ “bad girl” antics, Donna maintaned an uncommon sense of morality, exemplified by her decision to save her virginity until her senior year of COLLEGE, when she finally elected to give it up to David Silver of all people.
Where They Are Now: Tori Spelling, having finally given up on silly notions of artistic legitimacy or hopes that her late father might give her another acting career, has given herself to the altar of irony by starring in Vh1’s campy pseudo-reality show about the absurd life she now leads. These ongoing attention-craving exploits bear little resemblence to the more low-key post-graduate path of Donna, who probably ended up as a soccer mom somewhere in suburban Ohio, trying her best to forget about all those nasty people she knew back in Beverly Hills.
Name: David Silver/Brian Austin Green
Then: After sucessfully fulfilling his lifelong dream of escaping geekdom, David Silver dedicated his life to maintaining his newfound social status by embarking upon a series of half-baked, attention-seeking schemes such as becoming the school DJ (often exploiting his position to dedicate crappy love songs to crush Donna), managing a rock band (until they turned out to be Neo-Nazis), and inexplicably turning pie-and-coffee hangout The Peach Pit into an after-hours nightclub (which was somehow never affected by competition from LA’s more “posh”, less “diner-like” bar scene).
Where They Are Now: Brian Austin Green dropped his middle name, becoming Brian Green, then embarked upon a surprisingly unsucessful career as a rapper before returning to his TV roots on the recent ill-fated sitcom Freddie (If you can’t be Eminem, why not be Freddie Prinze Jr.’s co-star?) Tragically, Brian Green has now returned to where David Silver began – as an amusing-but-unpopular punchline, generally ignored except for when he’s being ridiculed. But at least he got to bone Donna – no one can ever take that away.
Name: Andrea Zuckerman-Vasquez/Gabrielle Carteris
Then: When intrepid reporter Andrea Zuckerman wasn’t documenting the latest juicy gossip for West Beverly’s high school newspaper, she could most likely be found volunteering for a teen rape hotline, stressing over college, and trying to gain the effection of guys way out of her league. Ended up in a miss-matched marriage with questionable token minority character Jesse Vasquez.
Where They Are Now: Just like the imagined adulthood fate of Andrea, Gabrielle Carteris ended up in an unfulfilling marriage, dividing her time between mommy duties and daytime television (Ellen is her favorite), and having misguided fantasies about leaving it all behind and trying to recapture the excitement and promise of her youth.
Name: Scott Scanlon/Douglas Emerson
Then: Despite his brief time there, Scott Scanlon was one of the most memorable and controversial students at West Beverly High. As the jock-hating outcast (and David Silver’s only original friend), Scott taught everyone a thing or two about the tragedic consequences of playing with firearms when he accidentally shot and killed himself at his own birthday party in the first season’s shocking finale.
Where They Are Now: While Scott’s current whereabouts (or lack thereof) are pretty obvious, actor Douglas Emerson’s 90210 after-life is far more interesting. After a small appearance on an episode of Blossom, Emerson gave up acting, enlisted in the Air Force and, according to IMDB, is now serving as a staff sargeant on high-profile intelligence missions in the Middle East. It’s funny to thank that somewhere, having overcome his fear of firearms, dorky Scott Scanlon could be interrogating Iraqi prisoners of war. Far more surprising than anything the 90210 writers could have come up with.